America’s Cup environmental review draws criticism

By Alex Zielinski

A glimpse of things to come? A crowded day on San Francisco Bay in February 2010. Photo courtesy of Mr. Littlehand on Flickr.

Heavy construction. Massive crowds. Congested waterways. Based on the city’s recently released draft environment impact report (EIR) for the 2013 America’s Cup, these threats, along with others, are an unavoidable addition to the international event.

Local environmental groups are split over the city’s proposed plans to tackle the problems.

“I’m optimistic about the report,” said Deb Self, director of the San Francisco Baykeeper. “While we haven’t seen all of the details we’ve suggested yet, it’s headed in the right direction.”

The Baykeeper, one of 30 environment organizations assisting the city in forming the EIR, is focusing on assessing the event’s potential impact on water quality and the shoreline.

With more infrequent boaters heading out to watch the race, Self is concerned about improper waste disposal and boat cleanliness. In addition, Bay Area boat yards, already known for their polluting methods, will need to prepare for a large increase in business.

“The boat yards are already disposing zinc and copper into the water,” said Self. “This influx of boats will only exacerbate the issue.”

Nonetheless, Self said she believes the city will work hard to incorporate the Baykeeper’s considerations. Aside from pollution control, Self is also involved in environmental education during the event.

“This is a tremendous opportunity to highlight the bay ecosystem on a local and national scale,” said Self, who is working with the race organizers to create TV segment focused on the Bay Area’s natural assets.

But not all environmental groups are as enthusiastic about the EIR as Self.

“The draft falls short in many ways,” said Mike Lynes, conservation director** of the Golden Gate Audubon Society. “Like most EIRs, the city failed to consider the long-term impacts of this event, especially in such a sensitive area.”

The bay shoreline and wetlands are home to a variety of threatened bird species, including the snowy plover and brown pelican; other species are on the verge of endangerment.

According to the EIR, many of the current shoreline areas home to at-risk species have inadequate fencing and signage. The draft stressed that these prohibitory items would be reinforced for the event, along with an installation of surveillance cameras.

“Ninety percent of the wetlands are already gone. Fences and monitors are not enough,” said Lynes. “They need someone out there guarding the area, not just watching it be trampled.”

Lynes is also dissatisfied by the EIR’s take on open water habitat protection. The draft suggests a “mariner education program” that will inform the boaters of the sensitive areas in the bay, which is a part of the Pacific Flyway.

“Their responsibility is more than just a pamphlet,” said Lynes. “They either need concrete mitigation, keeping all boats out of the areas, or need to look into creating bird refuges during the event.”

While Audubon plans on submitting a formal letter to the city, Lynes is unsure about its actual impact.

“I have a sense that the board of supervisors doesn’t have a high bar set for this project, even though they have the money and expertise to do it right,” Lynes said. “This is part of the cost of hosting the event.”

The public hearing on the draft EIR will be held at the Planning Commission in Room 400, City Hall, on August 11, 2011, at noon. Public comments on the EIR will be accepted until 5:00 PM on August 25, 2011. More information at the Planning Department’s website.

**CORRECTION: This article originally reported that Mike Lynes was the director of the Golden Gate Audubon Society. He is the conservation director, while Mark Welther is the group’s executive director.

Tags: , audubon, baykeeper, draft eir,

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